Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Patience, Young Padawan!

During my days at the Tau Ceti Naval Academy our instructors would often interrupt their lessons with the one and only question: 'What are the true virtues of a Space Pilot?' Hell, some even woke us up in the middle of the night (which were short anyway!) and asked us that. Although the answer was what must have been one of the Navy's best guarded secrets we always thought of things like bravery, loyalty, integrity or truthfulness. We were so young...

Now, right here in my 'AGS Intrepid' some 20,000 light years away from Tau Ceti I finally found the answer in a lockbox that was securely stowed away in some corner of my mind for all these years. The true virtue of any Space Pilot is patience. It's that simple. You see, space generally is not the flashy funky place full of speedy spacecraft, burning thrusters and glittering lasers and all that 'Space PR' stuff. No, most of the time it's empty, it's without sound and it's soul-crushingly boring. There can be some rare exceptions to this...

...some routine duties...

...but it all gets down to a lot of uneventful hours at the helm.

So for the last 6,000 light years I made my way through what I cynically called the 'Carina Suburbs': Uniformly looking space just like those prefab homes in an endless row where one looks like the other. I can confirm now, that M type stars make up more than 90% of all stars in the galaxy. Well, maybe it's even 107%, I don't know... What I know is I can confirm zero nebulae, zero giant stars, zero O-types and zero stellar remnants along the way, except for a one-in-a-million Neutron Star. This puts the explorer's mind to a test. Those brave souls that have flown through the 'Smoju' or 'Blia Euq' Sectors know exactly what I mean. The reasons for this I already mentioned. These regions of space are very old, most young stars went nova long ago and all interstellar gas has long been used up so there is hardly any star formation left. This makes the regions so 'plain'.
Here comes your space virtue: In a vast stretch of space where there are no significant 'beacons' standing out from all these stellar suburbs your patience is being put to a serious test. When I decided to do a traverse across the Orion Spur Shallows towards the Perseus Spiral Arm I was tempted more than often to just speed things up and do what you might call a stellar drive-by. After all the density of stars becomes significantly lower in the Shallows and this alone keeps telling you to 'go faster' just in order to be rid of it. 

This is explainable from a psychological point of view, because – sure! – we seek the unknown, which has to be amazing and shiny, right? Wrong. It's wrong, because even within M type star systems there are some rare finds. But the thing truly is to stay determined and keep looking. If you do, you can discover tiny terraformalble planets in close embrace of their M star, you can discover gas giants that do the same (and are therefore called 'Hot Jupiters' or 'Hot Neptunes') and there are even some Water Worlds with indigenous life lying in wait for the not-so-bored explorer.

Should I ever return to Tau Ceti (or even the Federation) I will pay the Academy a visit and write it a hundred times across the Forum walls: 'A Space Pilot's virtue is patience!'

'nuff said, time to move on. I have a vast star formation cluster waiting for me at the end of the rainbow.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The End Of The Rainbow

When you think the Eta Carina Nebula is a beautiful gem in space then the Wolf Rayet nebula of NGC 3199 plays in the same league. The nebula was once thought to be a ring nebula with a bright 'front' or 'shockwave' of gas, the result of intense stellar winds by a nearby Wolf Rayet star (HD 89358). Don't bother looking there, the star is at a completely different location for reasons unknown. It's not even in the line of sight from Sol. Sometimes I think 21st century astronomers were a drunken lot.

The nebula is not nearly as enormous as Eta Carina but it's still some good 80 light years wide. It also has considerably fewer massive stars around, suggesting that it's somewhat older in cosmic terms than the Carina. What is more interesting perhaps for the intrepid explorer is that when following the Orion Spur here, NGC 3199 seems to be the very last feature 21st century astronomers (yes, the drunken lot) could come up with. 

Beyond, the 'suburbs' begin again with seamingly monotonous space; or you head coreward from here and get the opportunity to see some spectacular star forming regions in the more dense Sagittarius Arm. However, once you fly through brilliantly named sectors like 'Bloo Dryiae' or 'Blia Euq' you get the picture.
The regions beyond NGC 3199 are also those where star density can become a problem at times. My good old Asp flies at 34 Light years and has so far laughed off any 'gaps' between stars but out here I find myself replotting courses or setting them manually more often. This is where I keep reminding me of the Mission Statement: Finding a traverse across the far Orion Spur Shallows and I think I'll get my work cut out for me.

Update: I left NGC 3199 well behind and finally found a system from where I will commence my traverse. I dubbed the system 'Hellsreach' because it boasts no less then nine celestial bodies with volcanic and/or magmatic activity that are nestled between a massive young B type star and its three orbiting protostars. I honestly don't know why I picked this system as my Waypoint Alpha. Maybe it's the desolate feeling of 'Don't go any further!' this system radiates.

Anyway, the primary is a scoopable so now it's time to plot courses for the great Far Orion Shallows Traverse. Time to move on.